Tag Archives: autism

Solutions to Sensory Integration Dysfunction

sensory processing disorder

We live in a physical world. No matter how still or silent our surroundings may be, our bodies are always detecting the sights, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations around us.

Your average neurotypical person might feel most at ease in a ratty sweatshirt and a pair of blue jeans. A child with sensory processing disorder, on the other hand, cannot stand the polyester these materials contain and feels on edge whenever she wears them. She has a very different perception of the same material. This doesn’t mean that her senses are “inferior,” they are simply different.

One of the hallmark symptoms of autism spectrum disorder is SPD. This is characterized by having a disorganized manner of feeling and processing certain tactile sensations. What may feel slightly rough to one person may feel like sandpaper to an individual with ASD. However, the same can happen with stereotypically “soft” items like cotton or silk.

Rather than providing comfort, as they would for most, they agitate the individual and cause them to go into a sensory overload often culminating in a meltdown. If you were constantly in pain, wouldn’t you be screaming out too?

Due to the fact that everyone’s preferences are so individual, it’s difficult to determine what the best course of action is for maintaining a comfortable environment.  The best way to do this is through a simple test of trial-and-error. Of course, the stakes are different for children who become distressed at the touch of certain materials. It is best not to bombard them with potential disturbances.

A better solution would be to gradually and non-forcefully present them with items that could cause a reaction.  Sensory processing is not a simple problem to solve; however, starting off with something as simple as a test of yes-or-no presentations may be a step in the right direction to making the world a little less stressful for them.

By Sara Power



Safety In the Summer: Autism Cards

autism summer safety

Ahhh! Summer is officially here! The sun is out, the days are longer, and school is over!

The summer months are a great time for the entire family to relax, go to the beach, or watch a ballgame. Going on vacation is another great activity where families can explore a new place and create long lasting memories.

But big events and family outings like these can cause some concerns for parents. These days, many parents are utilizing “Autism Identification” in order to help keep their children safe when out of the house. Making it clear that a child has autism can ease concerns if they are discovered by a stranger. In this scary event, it becomes easier for the child to get the help they need.

Here are three forms of Autism Identification that can help ease parents’ stress:

1. Autism ID Card: One of the most agreed upon issues is better training for first responders like police officers, firemen, medical personnel, and others. This card explains autism as a medical condition that hinders the person’s ability to communicate with others. So not answering questions or follow directions should not be perceived as refusal to cooperate. On the back, the card lists an emergency contact number.

2. Medical ID Bracelets: This includes important medical information that can be helpful during an emergency situation or if a child were to become lost. They help locate the parent, caregiver, or physician if necessary. At times accidents may leave a person unable to talk. Having this bracelet would help give medical staff the information that they need.

3. “Hand in Autism” Autism Info Card: Many parents may have experienced embarrassment when their child displays negative behavior in public. They take this opportunity to educate others about autism by passing around the info card. The card includes some information about how many people are affected and some common difficulties individuals with autism may have.

Although we focused on summer vacation safety, these forms of ID are useful all year round. Information is the key and can really make a difference during a time of urgency. It helps the assisting personnel or authority figures properly asses situations. All the cards described above can be purchased online at a low cost. The Hand in Autism Info cared is actually a free download!

Written by Raiza Belarmino



Workshop Covers Emergency Preparedness for Autistics

emergency preparedness for autism

For the final Shema Kolainu workshop of the spring season, Dr. Stephen Shore of Adelphi University helped the audience with tips on disaster readiness involving people with autism.

When someone on the autism spectrum suffers from sensory overload or social difficulties, this adds an entirely new layer of difficulty to an already stressful situation. First responders, whether police officers, firemen, or 911 operators, are trained to respond quickly and often harshly. Even with just a small amount of awareness and training, authorities acting during emergencies can utilize effective and gentler techniques to accommodate a person with autism.

When a child or adult with autism encounters a police officer, there are some “unwritten rules” that may be understood by most, but are frequently missed. For example, a teenager with autism may come off as overly blunt or disrespectful when answering an officer, since they speak quite literally or may not understand the question being asked. One in a series of videos that Dr. Shore screened for the audience showed adults with autism being read their Miranda rights. Because of their difficulty communicating, many of these individuals did not understand their rights to remain silent, and whether they should be waived.

Dr. Shore emphasized in his presentation that a first responder should remain very calm and use extra patience when dealing with an autistic person. Flashing lights or a burning building are very intense for a child on the autism spectrum; it should be expected that their reaction will be intense as well, and a screaming meltdown may well ensue. It is important to comfort the child instead of demanding answers from them. In many cases, it may be required to restrain the person, so that they don’t run back into the fire or another situation that is dangerous for themselves and others.

Disaster preparedness is not only a topic of interest for authorities; perhaps the very first responder in an emergency is a parent. Therefore, parents must take extra steps to ensure their autistic child’s safety. Dr. Shore suggested that parents notify local authorities of their child’s condition and address, preparing police officers and other government officials for a situation where they may encounter their child in a state of high stress. They can then be educated on exactly how to handle the situation.

Parents may also alert others by providing their child with a medical ID bracelet, clearly giving out their name while making others aware of their condition, which is particularly helpful if the child is non-verbal. Another idea is to affix a sticker decal onto a car, or even on a child’s backpack, that lets others know how an emergency should be handled.

Sometimes, locking the doors is not always enough to ensure a child’s safety. It is advised that parents of an autistic child keep a close eye on them at all times, and that there is always a plan in place for when something goes wrong.

Written by Hannah Jay



Tips for Potty Training A Special Needs Child

potty training for special needs

Potty training is one of the most difficult things to do when your baby is progressing into toddlerhood. It’s a long process filled with accidents, impatience, and miscommunication. When you add in the aspect of disability, potty training can be even more difficult.

Children with special needs are not so different from kids who are typically developing. Though they may need to learn in alternate routes, they are capable of coming to the same conclusions and meeting the same goals as their peers. In recognizing this, the following steps have been recommended while toilet training your physically or mentally delayed child.

Recognize that feeling

First, it is important that you teach your child to recognize when it is that they need to go to the bathroom. One of the biggest rookie mistakes for new potty users is that they do not recognize their need and simply eliminate without prior thought, causing accidents. In order to control this, it’s important that you help your child learn to identify what their body is trying to say to them and to act accordingly.

Make sure all steps are followed thoroughly

Once recognition of need and control over elimination have been accomplished, the child must learn proper bathroom etiquette. One might think that potty ending would end as soon as the child learned to use the toilet rather than their parents, but that is not the case!

The following steps need to be taught: recognizing the need to go to the bathroom; waiting to eliminate until an appropriate time; entering the bathroom properly; manipulating clothing closures; pulling pants down; sitting on the toilet; eliminating in the toilet; using toilet paper correctly; pulling pants up; flushing toilet etc.

 

There is no one right way to address these steps with your special needs child. To modify this lesson, you must pay strict attention to your child’s abilities. Though you may have to wait until later in development, it is always possible and surely worth the wait!

Written by Sara Power, Fordham University



Film Gives a New Perspective on Autism

autism film x + y

The 2014 movie X + Y follows a young teenage boy’s journey through the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO).

Nathan, the main character, is described as being socially awkward and having difficulty with the relationships in his life. It is soon discovered that he has a brilliant gift with numbers and is selected to be a competitor on the British team. The story goes on to follow his experiences with new challenges, particularly working to gain a better understanding of the nature of love.

It was inspired by the BBC television documentary Beautiful Young Minds where director Morgan Matthews takes you through the selection process and training for the competitors. Most of the young men on the team had some form of autism but excelled in mathematics. One in particular, Daniel Lightwing, was the focus and inspiration for X + Y.  As a child he struggled tremendously with the pressure from his parents and teachers to be social and “normal.” At the age of 16 he was diagnosed with Asperger’s, a syndrome that falls within the autism spectrum. Thereafter his parents realized that he simply had different strengths.

Once Lightwing found competitive math things got a lot better for him. His self-confidence and self-respect increased. In that environment he was able to relate to others more than he did in school or even his own family.

Soon after college he lived in China for some time where his academic achievements were held in high regard. He then landed a job at Google but encountered many struggles with social interactions. During his time there, he avoided others as much as possible. On the rare times he did participate, he was rejected.

Lightwing believes that the film is powerful in the way it portrays his experience with Asperger’s syndrome. It shows that there are many types of people in the world who are valuable and can contribute great things to society.

by Raiza Belarmino



Interpreting the Correlation between Infant Communication and Autism Onset

autism diagnosis

Over the years, researchers have fiercely debated the origins of autism. Theories regarding its conception have targeted everything from inattentive parents to biological bases. Despite their sundry allegations, these theories all have one thing in common: an emphasis on infant development.

Experts maintain that a clear diagnosis of autism cannot be established until early toddlerhood. Before then, behaviors vary too much to create a firm connection. Studies regarding eye movement and tracking have come close to identifying early clues to autism’s onset; however, they remain somewhat insufficient to establish an accurate diagnosis.

Jonathan Green, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Manchester, strives to substantiate an intensive evaluation and therapy approach that could create a stronger, more accurate method for infant diagnoses. He is currently supervising a study following 53 at-risk infants in order to document autism’s manifestation.

Green believes that it is a combination of genetic and parenting influences that activates autism during infancy. He has not been satisfied with the popular notion that biology alone determines autism development so he hopes to outline compounding factors. Thus far, he’s discovered that an intensive parental intervention correlates to increased social interaction and attention in the infants.

It is important to note that Green does not place the origin of autism on parents. Rather, he believes that parent-child relationships may simply influence the trajectory at which a biological predisposition towards autism may begin.

His intervention consists of training parents to recognize and interpret attempts at communication, fostering an interest in the infant’s changing attentions, and translating gestures into words to build verbal understanding. It also expounds on electroencephalography findings regarding brain response to speech sounds.

It is too soon to say whether this training can truly alter the course of autism’s development. Nevertheless, Green’s program does provide important feedback to parents regarding how their interactions play into the child’s development, whether they be typically developing or not.

“I don’t want to say that one can ‘cure’ autism like this, that’s not true,” Green says. “But I hope we’ll be able to make a difference.”

Sara Power, Fordham University



Dr. Shore Speaks About Successful Transition to Adulthood

Stephen Shore on transitioning to adulthood

Professor Shore has been able to remedy his sensitivity to overhead lights by wearing a baseball cap during his lectures.

Dr. Stephen Shore is no stranger to awkward situations. Through his lecture “Promoting Successful Transition to Adulthood for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum” presented on Friday at Hotel Pennsylvania, Dr. Shore hopes that his experiences navigating through life with Asperger’s Syndrome are instructive for young adults on the autistic spectrum.

A successful transition to adulthood often revolves around choosing the right career. Dr. Shore spoke about his fascination with mechanical watches as a child, and how he was able to parlay this strength into a college job repairing bicycles.

It is an unfortunate truth that the unemployment rate among adults with autism remains high today. The majority of young adults affected by asd struggle to achieve full-time employment- some estimates suggest over 90%. While teens on the spectrum vary widely in their degree of functioning (high/low), there are steps that may be taken to improve their likelihood of achieving independence.

Anyone on the autistic spectrum has their own set of strengths and interests. A child may love putting items in the correct order, for example. It may be ideal for this individual to take a job stocking shelves. This could parlay into a career in inventory management.

There are various professions that benefit from the skill set exhibited by some people with ASD. We have seen several companies, such as engineering firms, that actually have programs designed to place bright young adults on the autistic spectrum with jobs that utilize their math skills and minimal socialization. Employers sometimes praise these workers for their lack of idle chatter during a productive work day.

But proper employment is not the only challenge on the path toward adulthood. Learning to build social and relationship skills is usually a challenge for someone with ASD. Dr. Shore suggests that we ask for what he calls “reasonable accommodations” in order to successfully integrate into social groups.

For example, Dr. Shore typically presents his lectures wearing a baseball cap. Although this may seem unusual, his reasoning has nothing to do with making a style statement. He explained how the overhead LED lighting in lecture halls bothers him more than it would the average person, who may not even be affected. Asking for reasonable accommodations like this can help a person with autism fit in with others. The key, as always, is awareness- if the adults around him understand what his needs are, they may be more likely to feel comfortable with his differences.

Children with autism are poorly prepared for their adult lives, according to Dr. Shore, which is something that caregivers, therapists, and teachers need to change. It is typical to begin preparing a child for their adult lives at 16.

“This is about ten years too late,” said Dr. Shore, in response to that idea.

ICare4Autism is in the process of creating a Global Workforce Initiative vocational training program that will help teens develop their skills and translate them into a career. It is estimated that this year alone, around 50,000 18 year olds with autism will enter the workforce or choose to continue their education.

Written by Hannah Jay



On Making Autism Visible to Strangers

labelling autistic child in a crowd

For parents, one of the biggest hurdles they face raising a child with autism is the fact that it is a hidden disability. It may not be concealed behind a wall, or in disguise, but there are no trademark physical attributes that would signal public to their disability. As a result, misunderstanding in the form of aggressive criticism is an unfortunate reality parents have to deal with.

Farida Peters of Toronto, Canada is one of those parents. Every weekday, she takes her 5-year-old son Deckard on a seventeen stop subway ride that can last up to an hour so that he can get to his behavioral therapy on time.  Anyone acquainted with autism spectrum disorder knows that such rides can be a nightmare as they involve so many alterations dependent on the day: something Deckard simply cannot deal with.

In the past, he would throw tantrums during their ride when he couldn’t find a seat or didn’t have room to stand. The smallest thing could set him into a tailspin of screeching and stimming as he encountered boundless anxiety in the form of changes in their routine commute. To the uninformed eye, he was simply the petulant child to an overindulgent mother. After months of harsh words and exasperated encounters, Farida came up with a solution to alert her fellow commuters to what was actually going on.

Recently, Farida began clipping a laminated sign to her backpack that states: “My son is 5 years old and has autism. Please be patient with us. Thank you.” Though she’s met criticism for publicly labeling her child, Farida defends herself, saying “Honestly, I don’t always have time to apologize to everyone when I’m in crisis mode. I try to, but I have a kid who needs a lot of support.”

Despite some admonishments from close friends, the sign has improved Farida and Deckard’s commute drastically. Behavior that would once provoke an angry sigh or glare from a stranger now results in a reassuring hand on Farida’s back, and people asking how best they can accommodate her son.

The encouragement and support has comforted Farida immensely during times of duress; however, it’s proven even better for Deckard. Of course, his anxiety is now alleviated by the kindness of strangers; however, even better is the fact that people now engage him in positive conversation. Someone may see the sign and compliment him on his shirt or good behavior; others may simply offer a smile or a silly face. Regardless of the form the kindness comes in, it’s reinforced Deckard’s good behavior.

There’s an African proverb that claims that: “It takes a village to raise a child.” For Farida and her husband, the encouragement and kindness they’ve received as a result of her sign couldn’t prove this better.

Sara Power, Fordham University



Book Reaches Out to Parents Struggling with Child Disabilites

 

mental disorders and autism

For any parent of a special needs child, he or she is well aware of the challenges that crop up on a constant basis. A mother of four children with mental disabilities has now written a book to help parents cope with that overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to turn.

Ann Douglas’ book “Parenting Through the Storm,” reaches out to gather a large variety of perspectives. Over 50 parents of children with mental health challenges were interviewed, as well as mental health professionals. Their stories carry a message of hope for parents and provides advice on how to cope with mental disorders and illnesses.

The author’s own story has been a tumultuous one. Her daughter has battled depression and bulimia, and all three of her sons were diagnosed with ADHD. Her two youngest sons struggled in school with writing-based disorders, and her youngest son Ian has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism spectrum disorder.

She mentions in the book how the genetic variations that are linked to ASD often result in other mental disabilities within a sibling, like bipolar disorder. This is why it can sometimes feel like mental challenges are “stacked up” within a single family.

Douglas herself has fought against the current and suffered through mental health issues as a result of her childrens’ difficulties. She battled clinical depression for about three years. The author makes a point in her book to emphasize caring for onesself for her readers. In order to provide the best life for your children, you must make your own health a priority.

“You find yourself in the situation and you have no choice but to cope because the kids are counting on you to cope,” Douglas said in an interview with Brandon Sun.



Work Opportunities Blossom Under ‘Roses for Autism’

roses for autism

 

On Pencheck farms, the greenhouses are set to a summery 80 degrees while the busy employees get to work, harvesting flowers for Valentine’s Day.

February 14th is the day that flower companies receive their biggest business all year. Currently, workers who are part of the Roses for Autism program are helping prepare the flowers for harvest, which includes pushing them to “flush,” or bloom.

Tom Pincheck used to own the largest rose grower in the New England area. He was forced to shrink his operations after competition from South America slashed the market price that roses sold for. Pinchek farms could not compete with the ideal climate and rock-bottom flower prices, so he shut down wholesale operations in 2008 after 79 years of operation.

The rose grower was then approached by a college friend, Jim Lyman. Jim was the owner of the Lyman Orchards Dynasty and also had a son with autism. He prosed to Pinchek to use his rose farm to open up a vocational program for children with autism. The organization Ability Beyond Disability loved the idea, so it was set into motion.

Pinchek describes Roses for Autism as a “new incarnation” of his previous business. Twenty five full time and part time employees work here, where they are given the tools necessary to engage in meaningful employment. In addition, Roses for Autism also includes an internship program, where hundreds of students are involved each year.

Their activities on a given day include cashiering, shipping and inventory, and working in the greenhouse. The greenhouse is a peaceful space for many, as working with plants and flowers has proved to be a therapeutic activity for adults and children on the spectrum.

Perhaps most importantly, everyone is part of a team. This involves learning effective teamwork and social skills. The roses are not only special for those who receive them, according to Pinchek, but also for those who grow and care for them.

In the greenhouses, Pinchek and his employees and interns are cranking up temperatures, pushing the roses to flush before Valentine’s Day. All roses grown in the greenhouse are descendants of the same varieties that were cultivated in 1929. The most popular rich red variety is known as “Forever Yours.” In the muggy 80 degree greenhouse dripping with vapor, members of Roses for Autism are all working together to make sure these special red roses bloom just in time.